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Following the discovery of oil in the 1950s, agriculture was gradually displaced as the mainstay of the Nigerian economy.

Crude exports became the major foreign exchange earner for the country, while the groundnut pyramids in the North and the thriving cocoa business in the South waned drastically.

Thus, in recent times, Nigeria has been known to depend majorly, if not solely, on the revenue accrued from the exportation of crude oil to other big economies of the world.

This is despite the deep fears expressed by economic experts as to the sustainability of the product in future years.

Even though the endowment of petroleum resources can be a source of blessing for a developing country like ours, and the sale of this resource seem to offer attractive opportunities to generate national income and raise living standards, over dependence on it, like on any other single product, can be said to be the undoing of our economy.

Consequently experts have advised that the earlier the country began to focus on other viable industries, the better for the economy as a whole.

One of such sectors, which is yet to emerge in its full glory in the country is the tourism sector.

The tourism industry is one that encompasses different areas, and also create jobs for many people. With tourism comes hotels, restaurants, car rental agencies, tour companies, service stations, souvenir shops, sports equipment rentals, and much more.

All of these create different levels of employment for people in a given community.

In many places the introduction and development of tourism allows local people an opportunity for economic and educational growth that would not otherwise be available.

In addition, it allows both the tourist and the local community the opportunity to experience other cultures, which broadens understanding.

According to experts, nations that have recognised the economic importance of tourism and invested in the sector early enough, are today reaping the benefits of such investments.

For example, statistics shows that Britain, with a population of about 62 million earns not less than £70bn annually from tourism alone, while Spain with about 47 million people makes about $68bn from the industry and South Africa with a population of about 46 million, earns $56bn from tourism annually.

In India, tourism is the largest service industry with a contribution of about 6.2 per cent to its Gross Domestic Product and 8.8 per cent of the total employment in India. India witnesses more than five million annual foreign tourist arrivals and 562 million domestic tourism visits. The tourism industry in India generated about $100bn in 2008 and that is expected to increase to $275.5bn by 2018 at a 9.4 per cent annual growth rate.

The Director-General, Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, says that in recent years, the tourism industry in other African countries such as Kenya, Gambia, Tanzania, Ghana, Republic of Benin have been witnessing unprecedented boom.

He says that Nigeria, with its vast landmass, physical features, rich cultural diversity, numerous wildlife zone and hospitability, clearly has several advantages over some of these countries.

According to Runsewe, 'If things are put in place, our income from tourism should be about two to three times above all these other countries. This is clear because every week alone, we have 114 flights into Nigeria from all the major airlines in the world, the patronage is indeed overwhelming. In other areas too, we have the signs that will make focusing in tourism a very profitable venture for our country.

'It is my conviction that state governments need to pay greater attention to the sector with a view to confronting unemployment and mass poverty ravaging our nation, as Tourism cannot flourish where we have tour operators without vehicles to facilitate tours.

'Tourism remains the biggest and highest employer of labour all over the world, and the problem is that Nigerians have not been able to identify the proper role of tourism and what it can do for our people, we look for investments where they can never be found.'

He, however, maintains that the participation of the private sector in the industry has been far from satisfactory.

He says, 'That the tourism industry holds enormous potential for fast tracking the economy cannot be over-emphasised. This is in view of its capacity to generate income and employment opportunities, protect the environment and heritage assets as well as promote national unity and international trade and co-operation.

'A Former Nigerian Finance Minister, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, says that there is great potential in the tourism sector, which Nigeria is yet to key into.

He notes that even though developing tourism in any country is not an easy task, Nigeria is yet to take a determined stance to develop its tourism sector optimally.

According to Ciroma, 'Nigeria has been trying to attract people as a tourist destination for long time. It will take a lot of doings to really make people want to come here as tourists. And it will take a lot of effort because the value of tourist of course is that the things that are of interest to people to see are here and every time they come here, they spend money, so it will create jobs and it will create income.

'But it is not that easy and Nigeria in my view has not yet succeeded in attracting tourists because the private sector has not believed in this business. Most of such businesses are led by people who make money out of it. So they have interest in persuading people, attracting people and in making it interesting and therefore appealing to the people'.

According to a recent statistics from United Nations World Tourism Organisation, international tourists arrivals would increase from 56 million in 1995 to 1.56billion in 2020, while earnings from international tourism is expected to rise from $477bn in year 2000, to $1.55tn in 2010 and over $2tn by 2020.